Rice Football dropped a heartbreaker in overtime to North Texas, falling at home in what was a very winnable game for the Owls.
Nothing has come easy for Rice football this season so it shouldn’t really be all that surprising when the Owls found themselves locked in a four-quarter struggle against a North Texas team that hadn’t composed all that many impressive performances to this point in the season. Credit the Rice with this: when faced with the tall task of traveling 89 yard to force overtime, they rose to the challenge. Unfortunately, they couldn’t finish the game off the same way, falling at home to North Texas. Here are a few immediate reactions from the game:
Bring out the cart… again
On the Owls’ first drive of the game, Wiley Green took the shotgun snap and dropped back to pass. He was quickly greeted by a swarm of green, which sacked the newly-appointed Rice starter who was injured on the play. That marks the second time Green has left a game with an injury this year and the third game in which Rice has lost a starter during the course of the contest.
Injuries happen in college football. No team is immune. But when it comes to the quarterback position at Rice, the injury luck (or lack thereof) has gotten out of hand. Green was also knocked out of the game against Texas earlier this year. Luke McCaffrey also left that game with an injury. Then Jake Constantine, who took over for both following the Texas game, was hurt midway through the Owls’ game against UTSA.
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That’s FOUR quarterbacks injured to the point they had to leave the game over the course of eight games. The vast majority of teams across the country won’t lose one starting quarterback to an injury this season. Some will get unlucky and lose two. Rice has doubled that. And it’s not the first season this team has had to improvise at the most important position on the field.
Getting any sort of offensive rhythm established when you’re forced to swap out the key cog so repetitively can’t be easy. If nothing else, Rice football has had plenty of practice.
The ugliest 12-minute drive of all time?
If Rice were to submit some game film as proof of their upward ascent, it’s hard to imagine more than a snap or two from this game against North Texas would make the highlight reel. Somehow, Rice managed to run 12 consecutive plays inside the redzone and walk away with just three points. The Owls spent seven minutes within striking distance of the endzone after being handed multiple fresh starts via personal fouls called on the North Texas defense.
The offensive line was not having their best day and was flagged for holding twice in that redzone sequence. It seemed to become problematic enough that Rice nearly grounded the ball entirely, looking to take the points and tie the game rather than risk being knocked out of field goal range by sack or penalty.
North Texas responding to the 19-play, 12:07 Rice drive with a nine-play, 1:52 touchdown drive of their own further added to the frustrations of failing to capitalize on so many tries within a stone’s throw of the endzone. That entire sequence underscored a sloppy day for both sides of the ball.
Build the whole plane out of fourth down
There’s probably a more impactful name than the “it” factor, but that elusive clutch skill is something Rice has been looking to nurture for several years now. They caught lightning in a bottle by converting on five consecutive fourth down tries against UAB. Then they kept it going, converting on fourth down twice against North Texas. They’ve now converted
six seven eight NINE consecutive fourth down attempts. And two of those came via long pass plays rather than the Owls’ typical jumbo package.
Putting the ball in the endzone without as many heart-stopping moments is the optimal solution, but if you aren’t perfect on that front, being able to get one yard when you need it most is a skill worth having in your toolbelt.
Waiting for the Rice offense to show up in any form or fashion has been a frustration for some time. If it takes fourth down to get things in gear, so beat it. Yes, Rice needs to get to the point where it does take a miraculous streak of do-or-die moments, but it’s better to find messy offensive success than no success at all.
Pinball season bounces on
It’s starting to get exhausting. The sheer erratic nature of the 2021 Rice football team doesn’t make any sense. A week removed from the most significant victory over a C-USA West opponent under head coach Mike Bloomgren’s watch, the Owls lost to a listless North Texas squad that hadn’t beaten an FBS opponent since a two-point win over UTEP to close out the 2020 regular season. The win previous to that? It was over Rice.
If Rice could congeal its good days and bad days, the middle-of-the-road option might very well have a similar record to the 3-5 line the Owls currently hold in the standings. Granted, that more mellow iteration probably doesn’t beat UAB, but probably ought to have beaten North Texas.
On the positive side, if you’re going to have the lows, complimenting them with massive road upsets over conference foes is quite possibly the “best-case scenario” given the circumstances. On the other hand, a team with enough talent to win those big games has enough talent to win the other ones too. They just haven’t been able to string together any sort of consistency.
A bowl game is well within reach. Knowing what this team is capable of makes it seem decidedly foolish to count them out at this juncture. But they need to find a way to smooth out this rocky road or weight the die they keep rolling. The upside they forgo with disappointing games like Saturday is far too great.
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